Family of veteran who died after surgeries looks for answers alo - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Family of veteran who died after surgeries looks for answers along other veterans

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Iowa veterans and families are speaking out after an investigation done by USA  Today uncovered unsettling details about a doctor caring for veterans in the area.

USA Today reported that VA hospitals throughout the country are accused of hiring doctors with previous malpractice lawsuits against them. One of those accused, is Doctor John Henry Schneider, who was working at the Iowa City VA Hospital since. Schneider is accused of having injured prior patients and leaving one paralyzed. His medical license was revoked in the state of Wyoming after a surgical patient there died.

Despite his track record, the Iowa City VA hired him in April in an act that was later determined to be illegal. Federal law bars the VA from hiring doctors whose license has been barred in any state.

The news sent shock waves across the state and country and it hit too close to home for veterans in Iowa.

Mark Barron, who now lives in Coralville, served in the army for six years. During his service, he spent time in Iraq in 2003. Barron recently underwent a second lower back discectomy after having a similar operation done five years prior.

This time, it was done by Dr. Schneider. At first, he thought the surgery seemed run-of-the-mill but soon he was again in severe pain.

"The pain is actually the same before surgery with some added bonuses now. I'm experiencing pain on my right side now, whereas, the pain was always limited to my left side, I now experience pain on my right," he said.

After having the initial surgery in the past, Barron said the second time around didn't feel the same. This week, he read the reports about his doctor which led him to believe his own surgery may have went astray.

"Something is definitely different back there and it's very painful. I don't think this is where I should be after a surgery to help correct back pain," Barron said.

On Monday, Barron will return to the VA to get an MRI done to see if something went wrong with his surgery. 

"I want the VA to own up to their mistakes and fix the problems. It's apparent that there are many, many problems in the VA's system. They need to be fixed," Barron said. "Things have got to change. Not just for me but for every veteran because people keep dying."

While Barron is able to speak out about his concerns as a veteran, another Iowa family is having to speak out for their loved one after complications from a surgery led to his death.

Richard Hopkins, of Donahue, Iowa, was an United States Army veteran where he was a tank mechanic in Germany from 1971-1973. Earlier this year, after a trip to the Iowa City VA, Hopkins was diagnosed with a benign tumor in his frontal lobe. His family said they were told the surgery was going to be an easy one with a good outcome. 

Hopkins had his first surgery in July and by August 23rd, after three more surgeries due to complications, Hopkins was dead from an infection.

Following his death, the pain only got heavier after his family learned of Dr. Schneider's past.

"I was just appalled because regardless of what Schneider may or may not have done.. I feel like Iowa City is at fault because they hired him illegally. They knew his track record. They knew that it was illegal to hire a physician who had lost his license in any state and they still did it," Amy McIntre, Hopkins' daughter, said.

Hopkins left behind three daughters, six grandchildren, and six brother and sisters. His family is now haunted by the "what ifs" of his surgery.

"Maybe it could been avoidable. Losing a loved one. It could have been. We can't say for sure. We don't know right now. We're waiting," Annette Rainsford, his sister, said.

For McIntre, she questions whether she should have pushed her father to have the surgery in the first place.

"Would he still be here if Schneider didn't do the surgery? The what ifs are what make me the most angry because it's causing me to second guess everything," she said.

Through their grief, they hope by telling his story that it will raise awareness for veteran healthcare, after their own veteran couldn't be saved.

"It's just empty. Nothing's the same and for him to die when he didn't need to makes it even worse," McIntre said.

McIntre said prior to the USA Today report, she requested her fathers medical records from the VA. She has yet to receive a response from them.

Schneider told USA Today that he did not provide "substandard care." As a result of the investigation, the VA determined it was illegal for them to hire Schneider, who resigned ahead of his termination.

The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs is also investigating.

The Iowa City VA released this statement afterward, "All of the employees mentioned in the story no longer work for VA. We are also looking into whether other doctors in the VA system may have been hired improperly as a result of the same incorrect internal VA guidance, and we will take prompt removal action with any improper hires we discover."

Schneider resigned prior to his termination on November 29.

"I hope that this changes things. That they start to treat our veterans the way they deserve to be treated," McIntre said. "We're getting these physicians that can't work anywhere else so they go to the VA and who suffers? Our veterans."

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